Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Prison Escape

Too often we read the bible stories simply as recorded history….And so they are !
But they are in the bible for a much more important reason.
They are there to encourage us and teach us how to think and act and believe.
Each story has a message for us today that is as relevant as it was when the original story happened!!

I love the story in Acts 12.
The story background concerns King Herod's evil intentions against the early church. Not only did he harass them but he had gone as far as to order the apostle James killed and seeing that it pleased the Jews saw an opportunity to ingratiate himself further with the people.
King Herod put his finger on Peter to have him killed as well but - because it was the days of Unleavened Bread, a sacred holiday when all political activities were put on hold- he had him arrested and thrown into prison to hold him until after Passover.
The story doesn’t tell us how Peter felt but I’m sure he thought his life was over. There was obviously no hope of escape for King Herod had ordered 16 soldiers to guard him. Certainly sounds like overkill but it confirms to us how feared the early Christians were.
Peter was chained between two soldiers , and the other 14 soldiers were ordered to stand guard.

And what is Peter doing when we look in on him? Sleeping !
I don’t know that I would be sleeping…first of all, it wasn’t comfortable sleeping on the hard , cold prison floor- no modern prison luxury here! Adding to his discomfort were the heavy, painful chains and the emotional tension of knowing he faced certain torture and death.
I don’t know if the soldiers chained to him were asleep. I would guess that they were probably wishing they could be at home in their comfortable beds and I’m sure they wondered at this man who could sleep so peacefully with the threat of death hanging over his head.
Little did they guess it was their lives that were in danger and not his!!

Passover came and went and it was to be Peter’s last night in prison before King Herod brought him out to kill him.
An anxious prayer meeting was going on in a house within walking distance of the prison, with many Christians in attendance.
Meanwhile, an angel suddenly appeared in the prison lighting up the darkness.
He struck Peter on the side and told him to get up. Perhaps he struck Peter to break the chains holding him because when he stood up , the chains fell off. The angel further instructed Peter to put on his sandals and his garment and to follow him. The story tells us that Peter thought he was seeing a vision, not just because the experience was surreal but I’m sure because he observed the 16 soldiers not indicating in any way that they saw Peter getting up and getting dressed! And they did not even blink when the chains rattled to the floor. The angel escourted Peter past the first and second set of guards and through the prison gate that on heavenly cue opened by itself.
It was only when the angel left Peter standing alone on the street that Peter realized he had just experienced a supernatural prison break-out. I can’t imagine his emotions , he must have been elated. His first thought was of the church , to tell them he was free ! He knew where they were – I’m sure he himself had been part of other such night prayer vigils - and went to knock on the door.
A servant girl named Rhoda came to ask who was there. When she heard Peter’s voice, in her excitement forgot to let him in and ran back to interrupt the prayer meeting to tell them that Peter was at the gate !!
I always find it such a human reaction that they didn’t believe her . They were praying , I’m sure for a miracle, begging God to set Peter free… then they are told he is at the door and they tell Rhoda that she is beside herself! Or it is his angel – perhaps he is already dead.
I try to imagine how Peter felt ! Here he is, bursting to tell someone of his miraculous experience and no one will even open the door !!! So he keeps pounding !!
Finally , they come to the door and are amazed to see him standing there- grinning - in the flesh ! In fact, they are so jubilant that Peter has to tell them to be quiet… they will awaken the neighbourhood .
Peter stayed a short while and then slipped away to an undisclosed location for safety.

Can you imagine the scene in the prison when daylight reveals the two soldiers still lying on the floor with two severed chains between them ?? And the expressions on the soldiers' faces when the realization dawns that their prisoner has escaped? They must have been incredulous!
There must have been panic in the prison and angry blaming words, if not blows, hurled at one another, not just because the prisoner had miraculously disappeared but the guards knew they themselves were now condemned… the punishment for letting your prisoner escape was execution. (I would be curious to know if there was a soldier meant to be one of Peter's guards and was substituted at the last minute ? - I feel sorry sometimes for the soldiers, but God knew their hearts)

There are several things this incredible story teaches us.
1> God hears and answers prayers ! But we see reflected in this story our own blind spot. How often do we pray and then not recognize the answer when it comes?? Do we not expect God to answer our prayers? Do we not believe that we are coming to our heavenly Father who has promised to answer our need even before we ask? That He has promised to do abundantly more than we can think or ask? The Christians praying for Peter had James’ recent martyrdom fresh in their minds and they feared the worst. We do the same , don’t we? We become discouraged by what we see happening around us and we lose faith.
“And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” ( Matt. 21:22)

2> There is no obstacle big enough to prevent God from doing His will! Herod thought he had secured Peter so tight that no one and nothing could free him. But how easily God accomplished the escape. Sometimes we pray and we feel our situation is just too difficult and complicated for God to set it right ! We can’t see any way that God could possibly make things right. But we serve a great God!
“ Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?" (Jer. 32:27)

3> When we fear for our life or safety we can learn from Peter. He slept in the midst of a most terrifying experience. And we have that same assurance in God. Nothing will hinder His plan or purpose for our life. We are safe in Him.
“He will not allow your foot to be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3)

4> I think one lesson is often missed , the fact that Peter did not question his instructions. We take for granted that we would all do what an angel of God told us to do, but do we not often allow our reason to stand between us and obedience? Peter could have argued with the angel and said, “It is impossible for us to get past all the guards… Maybe you can pass unnoticed but they will for sure see me !!” But Peter’s automatic response was to do what he was told, even if it was illogical and contrary to his natural mind.
He had learned this lesson earlier - as we see in his response when he was brought before authorities in a previous experience, “We ought to obey God rather than men” ( Acts 5:29)

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by how eager God is to make His ways known unto us. He does not intend that we should flounder in the dark trying to understand Him, He has made Himself clear to us in so many ways, and one of the best is through the real life stories that He made sure were preserved for us thousands of years after they happened.
Isn’t that a miracle in itself?


Lovella said...

That is a miracle isn't it? Oh to have that faith, and not question ever the leading of the Lord. Um, I think you mean Rhoda. right? Not that it changes the outcome, same wonderful lesson.

Julie said...

Lovella, actually I did mean Peter-in not questioning the angel's instructions, but you are right about Rhoda ! she was the only one who believed the Lord had answered their prayers !! thank-you for adding that.

Lovella said...

now I'm laughing out loud. I knew what the story was, I wasn't questioning that but you are talking about Rhonda in the lesson. Hee Hee.

Julie said...

OK, the joke's on me!!! I HATE it when I do that... smile
I read your comment about Rhoda, Lovella, and never caught on that I had spelled it wrong..putting an 'n' in.... so thank-you for being vigilant and correcting me!!
And I forgive you for laughing at me!!! ha-ha
(took a phone call to straighten this one out !!)